Archive photo of Deerfield Beach residents. Photo from the Deerfield Beach Historical Society

By Sally Ling

As a teen, David Eller donned swim trunks and along with his buddies dove into the tepid waters of the Hillsboro Canal. Their destination was Capone Island, a short swim across the waterway. It was there, they had heard, great wealth awaited the brave and adventurous. It was there, it was rumored, that the notorious gangster Al Capone had buried a box of cash. David and his buddies were determined to find it.

For history to speak to us, it needs to be more than images and static words on a piece of paper, more than dates and events. History comes alive only by connecting those dates and images to a more intimate story. This is done by uncovering personal memories of people like David Eller. This is the goal of Project History! 

It started several years ago when Sally J. Ling was asked by the Deerfield Beach Historical Society (DBHS) to write a comprehensive history of Deerfield Beach. While the DBHS had file cabinets full of photos and documents and even a published book of images and captions, these didn’t include the precious memories stored away in the minds of longtime Deerfield residents. At one time, audio tapes had been made, and the tapes later transcribed. Over time, however, the tapes were misplaced along with the transcripts. Without these, what could be used to give us a look into the heart and soul of the emerging community?

Several years ago, while assisting the DBHS to give tours of the Old School House, Sally met Velemina Williams. She was in her 80s, a Deerfield native, and had many wonderful stories that needed to be recorded. Right then and there, Sally got out her pen and pad and interviewed Velemina. Her childhood memories immediately came alive as she recounted picking green beans in the fields, reading from school books with torn and missing pages and dancing at the Chicken Shack. That was the start of Project History!

A DBHS Broadcast student helps film for the new Project History! documentary.

With help from Emily Lily, president, Judith Stanish, vice president and Amie Kay Tanner, founding member of the DBHS, connections were made with Deerfield Beach High School’s Communications and Broadcast Arts (CBA) magnet program. Al Southard, instructor of the Broadcast Arts classes, agreed to partner with the DBHS to video Velemina’s story and those of other longtime Deerfield Beach residents. Students got class credit for working behind the camera and in the recording studio to capture dozens of stories of what it was like to grow up in Deerfield. Other students transcribed the tapes. The recollections covered all aspects of life — religion, politics, law enforcement, leisure time, employment, segregation and education.

Out of these interviews came several articles written for Deerfield Beach! magazine. However, many more stories are begging to be told. These will be included in a book covering the comprehensive history of Deerfield Beach. In conjunction with that, the CBA program will work with the DBHS to produce a documentary on Deerfield Beach’s history.

In order to complete both of these projects, to transform the current office of the DBHS into an archive and research room and to thank Al Southard and his CBA students for their efforts, the DBHS needs to raise some capital. Through a GoFundMe campaign, raised funds will cover research, writing and production costs of the book and documentary, along with construction costs in the research room. These funds will also be used to upgrade the audio recording and editing rooms at the high school into aesthetically pleasing surroundings for the students — Project History!’s way of thanking them for their participation.

Donations for Project History! can be made online through the GoFundMe campaign or directly to the DBHS at 380 E. Hillsboro Blvd., Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441. You may also contact the DBHS by calling 954-429-0378. Corporate sponsors are being sought as well. Anyone donating $100 or more will be invited to a book launch and presented a signed copy of the book.

The DBHS said it truly appreciates every donated cent and looks forward to the community’s participation in Project History! The DBHS would like to thank supporters in advance for helping to preserve Deerfield Beach’s history, educate children and share the city’s story. As these are long-term projects, a completion date for any of the projects cannot be determined until the necessary funds have been raised. Generous donations will help the organization get there much faster.

Donate today to Project History! at goo.gl/6h1P1k.

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About Author


This post was prepared by staff at Point! Publishing. For inquiries call 954-603-4553.

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